RaceMill Collegiate: Esther Walker of UCSD

Hometown:  Grand Forks, ND

School:  UC San Diego

Sport:  Triathlon

Facebook.com/ esther.walker.90

Instagram.com/ ewalk417

RM:  How did you find your sport of choice?

EW:  By running away from running. I ran cross-country and track all through high school, but then suffered a string of knee injuries that followed me all through college (where I mostly just played intramural sports like ultimate Frisbee and flag football to keep myself moving). Once I started graduate school in San Diego, I had no choice but to start running again – everywhere you looked in San Diego, someone was running -- and where else can you run almost every single day of the year in a tank top and shorts? After trying out a few half marathons, the old running pains returned, so my boyfriend (who cycled in college), convinced me to buy a road bike and try that out. His new hobby became dropping me on every hill (or leaving me to face 20 mph headwinds alone in the desert), but his training regime paid off!  After that, a friend wanted to train for the TriRock San Diego sprint triathlon, which gave me some motivation to start swimming. I ended up doing decently there, and we both had fun racing, so we decided to join the UCSD Triathlon Team. The team was a great environment for training and learning about triathlon, and I’ve been racing triathlons ever since (though I’ve also gotten hooked on the cycling component and also race road and track cycling for the UCSD Cycling Team).

RM:  What drives your competitiveness?

EW:  I never was a particularly competitive person, but the thing I love about triathlon is that you get to continually compete with yourself. The more improvement I saw, the more motivated I was to keep improving. In addition, even though triathlon is often thought of as an individual sport, there is a large team aspect to it at the collegiate level, which I think is the primary fuel for my present competitiveness. You see your teammates out there everyday, working as hard as they can, and so you do everything you can not to let them down and to race just a little bit harder to help the team bump up in the overall standings.

RM:  Athlete that inspires you? Why?

EW:  This is a tough question for a couple of reasons. First, I’d say I’m much more inspired by the talented and hard-working athletes I surround myself with on a day-to-day basis than by any one single athlete. They’re the ones who motivate me to show up to 6AM practices, to push myself through mile repeats, and to continually work as hard as I can out on the race course. Second, there are just so many amazing athletes right here in San Diego that it’s hard to choose! However, a few that stand out are Michellie Jones and Leslie Paterson – they both are just incredible forces in the sport of triathlon and are truly inspiring, particularly to young women just getting into the sport.

RM:  How many years have you been competing?

EW:  I’ve been competing with the UCSD Triathlon Team for about 3 years now.

Perfect weekend workout trip... where to? what do you bring? Itemize it! Tell us why it's in your car and why we need it.

Anza Borrego. Our team goes there every fall to ride and run in the middle of the beautiful desert (and to climb Montezuma, of course). This requires careful packing, with some of the few key items being:

1)    Your road bike. Leave the fancy wheels at home. It gets windy out in the desert and you don’t want to end up being blown off the road and getting impaled by a cactus just because you wanted to show off your deep-dish carbon wheels.

2)    Your most ridiculous cycling kits. The more colorful, the better.

3)    An 11lb. jar of Nutella. The fuel of champions.   

4)    Cash for your daily burritos from Jilberto’s. They keep you going.

5)    Spy sunglasses to protect your eyes from that hot hot desert sun and that blowing wind full of sand. Our team just loves the Daft and the Helm models – one for riding, and one for relaxing!

RM:  Group Training or do you prefer solitude? why?

EW:  Definitely group training. Especially when you train with a group of athletes that are just slightly stronger and faster than you – it really pushes you to your limits and inspires you to work your hardest, even when you’re feeling tired. However, not all days are hard days, and I also love having some good company on recovery rides, particularly when they involve stopping to enjoy some VG donuts, Zumbar coffee, and a view of the ocean.

RM:  Best result so far?

EW:  I’d say my most exciting experience so far was when I won the Collegiate Olympic Distance race at Wildflower last May. I didn’t have a particularly strong race at Nationals, and so going into Wildflower, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, as Wildflower is usually a race we do for fun (our last big event of the season). I didn’t go into it expecting to win, but by the time I was halfway through the bike leg, I could hear a motorcycle next to me and I knew that meant I had to push harder. It definitely paid off! On top of that, Bill Jones won the men’s competition for us, and UCSD won the overall team competition – it was a great day for UCSD!

RM:  What are you working on right now?

EW:  My PhD in Cognitive Science!

RM:  What are you training for now?

EW:  Right now I’m working on preparing for USAT Collegiate Nationals, which is coming up on April 25. From there, I’ll have to quickly change gears to get ready for Collegiate Cycling Nationals, which takes place just two weeks later. It’s been an exciting (and interesting) year of training and racing trying to balance the two sports!

RM:  Training secrets? Care to share?

EW:  Work hard, but have fun and never take yourself too seriously: Training can be a lot of work, but taking a minute to laugh with others during practice helps me get ready for the next hard effort!

Motivate others, and they will motivate you: Spend some time getting others excited about training, then they can help motivate you on days that you’re feeling less than inspired.

Split the race/workout into small segments: When I feel like I’m reaching a point where I just want to give up, I start to split the race or workout into smaller and smaller segments that I know I can finish. For example, I might tell myself in the file miles of a triathlon: “I can make it one more minute, OK, I made it through that, now I can make it through another minute.” That way, I can focus on accomplishing mini-goals without becoming overwhelmed by thinking about how long it is to the finish line.

RM:  Do you have a dream race you want to create?

EW:  A partner-cycling “triathlon” that highlights all of San Diego’s great places to ride. You start the race on a tandem road bike and complete a hilly road race through the streets of San Diego (making sure to hit the lovely hills of Torrey Pines, Soledad, and perhaps Palomar if you want an extra challenge). The road race portion would end at the entrance to the San Diego Velodrome, where you would complete T1 and hop onto your track bike. You’d then complete a 60-lap Madison race with your partner, hop off of your track bike and then jump onto your mountain bike in T2. You’d then race through the trails of Balboa Park, where you’re now allowed to drop your partner, as only the first person to finish on your team is scored at the finish line! Best. Event. Ever.

Training Tracks:

Each year on the team, a “theme song” emerges over the course of the season. And so even if you don’t particularly like the artist or the song, it becomes permanently stuck in your head and permanently associated with the team. So, for nostalgic purposes, you become attached to them and they become great racing songs! I’ll list two of them here:

Timber (Ke$ha and Pitbull) (2014 season)

Shake it Off (Taylor Swift) (2015 season)

Other songs I enjoy listening to while training/racing include almost anything that has a good beat (I also make sure to throw a couple of slightly ridiculous songs into my playlists to give me a good laugh during a workout). Currently on my running playlist:

Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen)

Stronger (Kanye West)

Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson)

Jump in the Line (Harry Belafonte)

*Photo credit Jorts Sports Photography*

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